China’s Leadership ‘Confident’ Economy Will Improve

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China

China’s leadership is confident the economy will improve, an official said Monday, ahead of a key political meeting in which Beijing is expected to unveil one of its most pessimistic growth targets in years.

Armed police and public security workers are ubiquitous on Beijing streets as thousands of delegates descend on the capital for the annual political conclave known as the “Two Sessions”.

Front and centre at the meetings will be China’s economy, which last year posted some of its lowest growth in decades and is battling a prolonged property sector crisis and soaring youth unemployment.

Tuesday’s opening of the National People’s Congress is expected to see Premier Li Qiang announce that growth in 2024 will stay largely flat, at around five percent.

But at a Monday press conference, NPC spokesperson Lou Qinjian struck a bullish tone.

China’s leaders, he said, had “ample confidence” that the economy would rebound, adding the country has “more favourable conditions than challenges in its economic development”.

“The underlying trend of a rebound in the economy and long-term growth remains unchanged.”

But in a break with decades-long tradition, he said Premier Li would not be holding a press conference at the end of the NPC meeting next Monday.

Long a rare opportunity for international media to question China’s top leaders directly — with usually pre-approved questions — Li had used last year’s briefing to warn that Beijing’s modest growth goals would be “no easy task”.

And in 2020, his late predecessor Li Keqiang admitted that 600 million people in China were still living on just 1,000 yuan ($139) a month — a break from China’s official claims to have defeated poverty.

There was also no mention of a press conference with the foreign minister — currently Wang Yi — which normally takes place a few days into the NPC meeting.

Lou on Monday also addressed China’s hope for this year’s presidential election in the United States, with which it has clashed in recent years on flashpoint issues from technology and trade to human rights.

Americans go to the polls this November in an election that will likely pit former leader Donald Trump against President Joe Biden.

“No matter who becomes the president, we hope that the United States can work in the same direction with China and work for a stable, healthy and sustainable China-US relationship,” he said.

China’s “Two Sessions” officially kick off Monday at 3 pm (0700 GMT) with the opening ceremony of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) — attended by President Xi Jinping and other party top brass — which will last until Sunday, March 10.

Monday’s CPPCC is relatively low-stakes compared with the near-simultaneous gathering of the NPC.

At a press conference on Sunday, CPPCC spokesperson Liu Jieyi said that “economic topics” would be “of great concern” to the body’s more than two thousand members.

This week’s meetings are not expected to see the unveiling of big-ticket bailouts that experts say are needed to stimulate China’s economy.

Beijing is also set to double down on national security, with analysts expecting it to increase its military budget, second only to the United States.

China revised a law dramatically expanding its definition of espionage last year and conducted raids on a string of big-name consulting, research and due diligence firms.

The legislature’s top body also approved a broad and vaguely worded revision to the country’s state secrets law in the run-up to the NPC meeting.

Lynette Ong, a professor at the University of Toronto, told AFP there would “be continued emphasis on security”.

“I don’t expect any major policy change such as important structural reforms that will change the course of economic trajectory,” she added.

On paper, the NPC wields little actual power.

All major decisions will have been made weeks before in closed-door meetings of the Communist Party, far from the international media’s cameras.

But the topics that are up for discussion and the tone of the speeches allow for key insights into what’s keeping China’s rulers up at night, analysts say.

“Balancing security with the need to keep the economy ticking over while other issues are worked out is at the centre of policymaker’s minds,” said Diana Choyleva, chief economist at Enodo Economics.

At a Monday press conference, NPC spokesperson Lou Qinjian struck a bullish tone
AFP
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) band performs ahead of the opening ceremony of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 4, 2024.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) band performs ahead of the opening ceremony of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 4, 2024.
AFP

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